January 10th has definitely gotten easier over the past sixteen years, but it hasn’t gotten much easier. Every year I see the date on the calendar approaching, I get the same lump in my throat, the same heaviness in my heart. This year feels a little different – we’re past the fifteen year mark and headed for twenty. Sixteen years ago today, my Baba passed away.
And even though I was so young, I remember the day perfectly. Actually – I’d rather not use the word perfectly as there was nothing perfect about it. Unlike this rainy day I’m currently experiencing in Toronto, it was a bitter snowy day in Manitoba, only a short while after the turn of the new millennium. My sister and I stepped off the bus and proceeded to walk down our long driveway, where our Dad was waiting to tell us the news. And that was that. My world changed.
My baba wasn’t just our grandmother – she raised us – all of us – her husband, my sister and I, my Dad, my family and my extended family. If I were to pick a maternal figure in my life, she was it for me. She was warm, affectionate, nurturing, tender – and a fierce family leader. She cultivated our early stages of development with compassion and exuberance, handmade dresses and homemade Ukrainian food. She didn’t just own the farm with my Grandpa, she was the farm – It was never ‘going to the farm’ – it was always ‘going to Baba’s’.
And you never know what you have until it’s so quickly snatched away. Despite our attempts to maintain what we knew as normalcy, our family as a unit disintegrated. The gatherings stopped, the homegrown aromas stopped filling the air, the country music disappeared from our home’s airwaves, the flowers in the garden didn’t grow.
Although I’ve had my share of major life events since then and have lost more family members, this landmark event resonates so much with me still because I remember this as the turning point of when I was forced to grow up and forced to deal with rapid change. This is when I learned that time seeps by and you either need to step up and roll with the punches or this life will swallow you whole.
So we did. We all did. The family unit as I knew it disintegrated but it was reborn into something different. My Dad and sister and I moved to the farm to live with my Grandpa and that’s where I spent the rest of my formative years. I learned that it wasn’t awful – it was just different. I learned then that life is short and during that span, the unexpected curveballs do not stop. And we’re never really prepared to play ball in the first place. Instead, we stand up, brush ourselves off, lick our wounds and let time take care of the rest.
Sixteen years scares me because at times I’m scared I’ll forget her. I’m scared I’ll forget her voice or how her and my Grandpa used to bicker in Ukrainian or how her basement was full from floor to ceiling with canning and preserves or how her hugs felt. Maybe I will forget some things but I do know for sure that she lives in me, in some of my character traits, in my face, in my heart. I often joke that I don’t possess any maternal instincts – but I do – and they are because of her.
So I did the only thing I could think of to truly pay tribute to her today – cook. Like, really cook. Like make a whole lasagna from scratch (including the noodles) and fill my condo with mouthwatering scents cook.
This year I’ve decided that instead of feeling sad and mournful, I’ll use January 10th as a day to be grateful for the short time I did get to spend with (and be raised by) such a cherishing and remarkable soul. A huge part of who I am is because of her and I’m so appreciative. Thanks for reading about my Baba 🙂